Tuesday 17 April 2012

O is for O. M. G... It's only Nikolai Dante artist Simon Fraser!

Did you see what I did there?* Anyway, moving on...

Regular 2000AD and Megazine artist Simon Fraser has one of the most distinctive styles in comics - and I, for one, love it! Co-creator (with Robbie Morrison) of the swashbuckling Russian rogue Nikolai Dante, collaborator with Martin Millar on Lux and Alby Sign On and Save the Universe, and creator of Lilly Mackenzie, etcetera, etcetera, he is also one of a group of Scottish artists responsible for the daily artblog Scotch Corner.

I was fortunate enough to meet Simon years ago (back when there used to be DreddCons) and even own some of his original pen and ink Dante artwork. So, without further delay, on to the interview!

1. How did you start out as a professional artist?

I published a couple of small press anthologies with friends. They got some small attention, then I sent my work around all the smaller publishers that I thought I had a reasonable chance with and few that I didn't. Martin Skidmore was starting his Trident Comics line at the time and he hired me for a couple of jobs. From then I got a book through Dick Hansom's ACME comics and from then to the Judge Dredd Megazine courtesy of Dave Bishop.

2. What was it that gave you your big break and led to what you are doing now?

I was fortunate to arrive at the Dredd Megazine when it was going through a new talent finding phase. I met Robbie Morrison and we've done some of our best work together for the Megazine and 2000AD.

3. What is your preferred method of working? Which medium suits your style best?

I like to know the Writers a bit before working with them. It helps if you understand and trust each other. Then when the scripts arrive you're not working blind. I've tended to stick to Sci-Fi stories primarily because of 2000AD and I like making things up.

4. You have created all manner of famous (and infamous) comic book characters. Which are your favourites?

I'm best known for Dante and it's hard not to love a character who loves life so much. Robbie, Dante and I have been through a large chunk of our lives together. We've all lived, loved and lost together. When we end the story in a few months it's going to be like having a child leaving home. The sound of that door closing will echo for a while. Lilly and Cosmo are wholly my own creations though and I've been living with them in my head for quite a long time. Writing and drawing them is almost effortless, so I would have to say that they are my favourites.

5. How are you going to feel when you finish drawing the last page of Nikolai Dante?

I suspect I will feel like a stiff drink.

6. What’s it been like working with Robbie Morrison on the same strip for so long? Have you ever influenced the direction the story has taken?

Robbie and I have talked about Dante and his world a great deal in the last 15 years. I suggest a lot of things, usually about how the characters would behave, which Robbie listens to politely and maybe uses or maybe not. I think for him it's good to have a sounding board for ideas and nobody knows the characters as well as me. I'm less concerned with the plot because Robbie has such a strong handle on that, he's really superb at engineering big storylines without losing the small truths that make it believable. The script I'm drawing now actually came as a result of a character idea that I had. It came as a brainstorm and seemed so absolutely right that I knew that Robbie would agree. We've also been passing the last few pages back and forward for a while now, just so that we hit the right emotional pitch for the closing scenes.

7. Of which piece of work are you most proud?

I'm very proud of Lilly Mackenzie & the Mines of Charybdis, because it's all my own work. Though having built something of the scale of Nikolai Dante's adventures over the last 15 years is obviously something that I'm going to be very proud of until the day I die.

8. Is there anything you’ve worked on in the past that you’d rather forget?

I've done nothing that I'm ashamed of. I think as long as you put a sincere effort into your work there will be something in it to treasure. The things I'm ashamed of are the parts where I wasn't doing that. Thankfully most people will never know what those were.

9. Is there any character you haven’t drawn yet that you would still like to?

There are corporate franchise characters that I am very fond of. I think it would be great to do a Superman story with the right writer. I like Wonder Woman a great deal as a concept too. Those two are the really big iconic characters and finding the humanity in those demi-gods is interesting to me. I can't really relate to Batman at all; if you're talking eccentric, millionaire, geniuses then Tony Stark gets my vote.

10. What are you working on at the moment?

I have 28 pages left to draw of Dante, then I move on to a creator owned graphic novel I'm doing called KNIVES OF GLORY, which is an international adventure romp set in the world of haute cuisine. It will be very different from anything I've done recently.

11. What advice would you give to any aspiring artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?

It has never been easier to get your work out there and in front of an audience. The comics industry is full of some of the best, most passionate and most supportive people you will meet anywhere. Having said that, working in comics is often badly paid and disheartening. Like any creative art the comics medium has a lot of talent chasing too little money. So always do it because you love it, because comics is a rotten way to make a living, but a tremendous way to live your life.

Thanks again to Simon for taking the time to answer these questions (and kudos for being one of the first for getting his answers in), and remember you can follow Nikolai Dante's adventures as they build towards their climax in 2000AD every week!

* I don't seem to know many artists whose names begin with 'O'...


Amanda Heitler said...

pWandering through on A-Z mission and stayed to follow. Great interviews you have here.


Sharkbytes said...

I'm always amazed at people who can draw that well, that fast. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month. My alphabet is at myqualityday.blogspot.com

Jennifer Hayden said...

I suspect I will feel like a stiff drink? Excellent. And you'll have earned the whole bottle.